Directed by Nick Park, the creator of Wallace & Gromit, Early Man is was 2018 stop-motion film which stars the voice talents of Tom Hiddlestone, Timothy Spall, and Eddie Redmayne with Maise Williams.
I am a fan of Wallace & Gromit, and honestly I think you’d be hard pushed to find someone that doesn’t like the inventor and his loyal dog duo. The creativity of the stories, the interesting characters and the beauty of the stop motion animation cannot be beaten. Tim Burton has tried to duplicate it with The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride but his attempts have been a pale imitation (literally) of the colourful style of the Aardman filmmakers.
I have enjoyed the Wallace & Gromit films, Chicken Run, and whilst Flushed Away moved away from the stop-motion method favouring GCI, the film still felt like an Aardman production. Shaun the Sheep was never my cup of tea because I think it was made to favour younger audiences rather than the all ages feel of the other films. So when I saw Early Man was on Netflix I decided that it was definitely one to watch immediately...
The film opens in 2 million BC when an asteroid crashes into the Earth and causes the extinction of the dinosaurs, but sparing the lives of a group of cavemen in a valley near the impact site. After finding a roughly spherical chunk of rock the cavemen pick it up, and later begin kicking it around as it is too hot to touch for more than a moment or two. Before they know it the cavemen have invented football.
Centuries later in 1 million BC, the descendants of the tribe seen in the opening are rabbit hunters living in a peaceful valley. A caveman named Dug believes that the tribe should try hunting mammoths instead of rabbits but the chief doesn’t think the uncoordinated tribe would have a chance against such a beast.
Later that night the tribe are attacked by armoured war mammoths and chased from the valley into the wastelands surrounding it. Dug tries to fight back, but is unsuccessful, instead, he falls into a cart where he is knocked out. He wakes up to discover himself in a Bronze-Age settlement controlled by Lord Nooth. Dug is swept along by a crowd who drag him into a massive stadium where he is mistaken for a footballer and ends up on the pitch.
Struggling to understand what is happening; he is revealed to be a caveman and decides to challenge Nooth’s Bronze-Age team to his tribe in a game of football. If Dug and his tribe win, they get their valley back, and if they lose they will work in the mines forever. Realising that he can use the game as a way of making more money Nooth agrees to the game convinced that his team will crush the cavemen.
Dug returns to the tribe and tells them of his plan to get the valley back. Unfortunately it turns out that the tribe are not especially good at football. Things look bleak until Dug is able to find some help from a Bronze-Age woman named Goona, a football enthusiast who longs to play on the famed turf...
If you have ever seen The Longest Yard, the remake of The Longest Yard, Mean Machine (which was technically a remake of The Longest Yard), Up and Under, or basically any underdog story in which a team of misfits take on a much more skilled group then you basically already know what is going to happen here.
As with other Aardman films the detail in the environments, the use of puns for shop names and tools, as well as the design of the characters themselves are perfect. The attention to detail is staggering and the sheer energy of the effort that has gone into making everything is clear.
The voice acting is top notch with Tom Hiddleston and Timothy Spall both particular highlights, with Nick Park taking over the sounds of Dug’s pet boar Hognob.
So the film has a fine pedigree going for it but sadly it has one rather massive problem which over shadows everything else...the lack of a good story.
Let me explain...
In Wallace & Gromit we’ve had a sheep rustling, a day trip to the moon, a Ware-Rabbit, and a penguin disguised as a rooster who commits robberies. Chicken Run was basically The Great Escape except with chickens instead of people, we’ve had pirate adventures, and the continued adventures of a sheep with a one word vocabulary...so why is Early Man so lacking in imagination??
I mean it is a tribe of Stone-Age people having a football match with a team of Bronze-Age people in which if they win, the tribe get their land back, and if they lose they are condemned to working in a mine for the rest of their lives. Tell me, what do you think happens?? I know that you could argue that for most films but, who’d have thought that the cyber-dog would end up in the sheep mincing machine, or that Ginger and Co would build a plane to escape their chicken coup. How the heroes win is the interesting part. A football match is not interesting, the heroes will score the winning goal, probably through some kind of trick-shot, but that is how the game will always end. So I repeat where is the imagination???
It is a real shame because I really enjoy the style of the film and like I said the voice acting is also great, but the story is dull, it is boring, and ultimately there is only one way that things are going to play out.
I watched the film to the end because I was enjoying the creativity of the environments, and the voice acting, but Abbie abandoned watching it about thirty minutes in because she was completely unengaged with the football focussed storyline. I stuck with it, but I have zero interest in football, and anything which centres around that particular game is not going to be something that I find engaging.
Ultimately, there are better Aardman films out there if you enjoy the stop-motion style and the voice acting doesn’t falter on any of their other productions. As far as Early Man goes I don’t think that it is going to become one of my favourites, unlike, well, pretty much all the non-Shaun the Sheep stuff. I cannot say it is a bad film but it could have been better if the story had not been ultimately so un-engaging. I cannot bring myself to give the film a Thumbs Down but considering I stuck with it due to the animation and voice acting, rather than the story then I cannot give it a Thumbs Up either. As a result the only think I can do is leave my Thumb Horizontal.
6/10 – The superb animation and top notch voice acting can carry the majority of the film however, the story itself is generally pretty dull, there is nothing new or interesting, it is yet another underdog story which is lazy and not really worthy of an Aardman production.